What you are about to read is a personal story.
Now, whatever you think about this sentence, whatever was evoked in you the moment you had read it, from your sensations to your emotions, visualizations, expectations, immediate reactions, memories good and bad, all of these are somatic responses.
Everything that happens to you is housed inside your body and all that happens to you, in turn, shapes what it is housed in. Most of what you experience happens without your conscious awareness. Most of what enters the mind, whether as thoughts, decisions, or impulses, comes at the end of a long culminating process that originates in the nervous system. This is a somatic view of the world. This is what a soma does. From moment to moment the soma moves through it’s environment in a continuous exchange of information within itself and between itself and the outside at the sensory level.
So how does it move?
It moves with the mind. It’s movement cannot be separated from the mind because they are bound together in mutual service. It is this relationship between what is moving and what is being moved that serves as the prime mover for the writing of this blog. The soma is what is referred to in the name “My Portable Habitat”. That’s the secret meaning. A self-aware living space that moves the environment it built for itself.
It’s not a perfect metaphor but, in the end, no metaphor can make the claim of perfection (see quote in the right hand margin). In order to post online I needed a distinct name that described what it is about. I wanted the name of the blog to be the same as the web address so, with these constraints in mind, I laid down on the ground, moved, held, bore witness to thoughts and sub-thoughts circling around this “soma”; place, space, consciousness, self caused movement, and “My Portable Habitat” emerged. And so it would be typed.
It was perhaps a year ago I came up with this name and the plan behind it. Maybe more, I can’t remember. Whatever the case, a year is a long time from desire to conception to first post and this brings me back to the very first sentence. The personal part involves everything that has been written about so far and puts it into the context of my life over the past three years. In March of 2015 I abruptly “woke up” to the catastrophic condition of what I eventually came to regard as my soma. It was a cascading realization involving many complexities which will take time and many posts to sort through and describe. This awakening part came upon discovering I harbored a deep spinal injury that I had effectively forgotten about. I was easily reminded of it’s presence because it came in the form of a crushed disc, crushed by the misalignment of the thoracic vertebrae above and below it, in league with my unaware movements, causing me to be immobilized by pain for most of any given day.
Eventually, everything hurt. And I’m only exaggerating a little. Radiating pain centers from a whole long list of lifetime hurts, wounds, traumas, and so forth populated my body and, within a span of weeks, I was aware of a lot of things I never knew existed. I had little choice but to really face up to it. But before I could do that I needed to observe it. Pain is a sensation I could eventually turn into useful information. Though I didn’t think about it this way at the time, I was face to face with my nervous system. When I went to my first SomaYoga class at Tula Yoga and Wellness, I would learn to understand what was happening, what I was experiencing, using the terms of somatics.
I should now say something about where this idea of the soma comes from. I will introduce you to Thomas Hanna (1928-1990), known to, it seems, only a handful of somas alive today. My blog will do all it can to make him, his somatic techniques and the philosophy behind them familiar to people. This, too, will demand much time and many posts because somatics is deep, complex, and far reaching in scope and application. Before I chase anybody away by saying that, I will reassure you that there is a lot of the familiar along with some things that aren’t familiar. Hanna fits, in my opinion, into the spirit of the present time very well but was unable to carry forward this idea of somatics. He died, like his philosophical hero Albert Camus, in a car crash. Hanna was sixty-two, an age when thinking types produce their most mature work.
This is where I come in. Not that I believe I can pick up where he left off, but that I can provide a frame of reference in which these ideas can be presented and accepted as true, good, and useful to people . I have a habit of thinking up really big projects and then leaving myself to wonder about where to begin. On any given day, as I sit down to write, whether I believe I bear a Very Important Message about the (my) soma to all of humanity or whether I am just tilting at windmills will determine much of how this will proceed. Whatever the case, calories will be burned in the service of it.
I will begin as I have already with somatics and the soma and follow that path to where it logically leads next, which is to why somatics and yoga bond so well. This was apparent to Hanna as far back as his 1970 book “Bodies in Revolt”, which I am currently reading. It has a lot of what keeps my candle burning in life; cultural history, science history, history of ideas, the mind, perception? I love this stuff and can ruminate on it ’til the cows come home. But what good is rumination if it doesn’t move me to action? Everything in the whole universe is moving, depending on your perspective. Why resist?
Plenty of reasons I won’t go into here. But, the phrase “go with the flow” is a thing for a reason. It fits us into something at the heart of our experience of life. There’s a constant flux, an ongoing exchange between ourselves and whatever is around us that the mind can access and engage. This is what you learn from any meditative practice. A part of why I believe that many of the problems we have in the shared experience of present society have their origins in blank spots in our perceptual awareness. We are turned off from appreciating how we experience ourselves, from noticing how the environment which immediately surrounds us, from the very local to the much less local, affects how we feel and what goes on in our heads. Because of this, we fall into and persist in unhealthy movement patterns, emotional patterns, thought patterns. These patterns originate from nervous system responses to the environment du jour. Because of this, more people find it increasingly laborious to go with the flow.
I can say this without undue confidence because I have seen it in myself. For three years I have been my own mind/body laboratory and this blog is a report on my findings. Or, if you prefer, I was a river with no flow. Or very little. What of it there was had to get the other parts moving. In a nutshell, mindful, observed movement is what somatics and yoga have to offer and what writing this blog will accomplish for the one writing it.
What is it yoga and somatics do, exactly? Change thinking by changing the perspective on thinking. What it is and what it does. What I discovered is that much of my thinking is nervous energy on autopilot. Once I saw it this way I could see how depleting thinking can be. Of course, thinking has rewards, too, and we do it every day. It’s when it isn’t or cannot be shut down, turned off and put to bed that it depletes us. When thinking is over stimulated it freezes other parts of ourselves. The range of perception is narrowed because the mind is otherwise occupied and so we overlook things. One way this becomes manifest, and observed by Hanna, is through muscles, fascia, and joints which endure stress that we the egos don’t observe. Over time this becomes what we will often call a “problem”. Solving the problem involves thinking, understanding the problem involves observing. In order to observe it this thinking must be slowed or even suspended and observed in turn because what you think is just as important as the fact that you are doing it.
Everything I have said up to now seems to beg for an explanation of what I do as a yoga teacher and what this blog seeks to do. I was trained in Yoga North’s 200 hour SomaYoga program and was certified in December of 2016 and this is what I teach. I am also a Level II Yin Yoga instructor , though I don’t currently teach any classes, and have 50 hours of Yoga Nidra training. These three types of yoga, though Nidra is more of an aspect of yoga, are what I adapted for the purposes of my Special Somatic Situation. “My Portable Habitat” will describe the progression from having very large blank spots in my internal perception and what I could do with this training once I realized this was the case.
I will do my very best to post once a week about my own somatic journey which will involve a wide range of subjects. There will be some explanation and there will also be posts about how a somatic view already exists in this culture that are familiar and encouraging in the realms of cultural knowledge. Over time I think and hope it will be clear that “somatics” is a lens that affords a particular perspective on the world and how we humans can know things in order to live within it. And I might add at this point the perspective of and on the modern world because our somatic experience with the environment of the day has changed over time.
These are all big subjects, but I will start small. Next weeks post will move towards three somatics terms borrowed from physiology which name processes of the nervous system and that were immediately useful and monumentally significant to me in resolving the mind/body problem; interoception, proprioception, and exteroception. These words which read like syllable worms across the screen simply represent an activity of the nervous system. All in next weeks post.
And, because my brain preventing this inaugural post from ending, I will also be posting about techniques and poses, my teaching and classes I teach, as well as a workshop I co-teach with Ruth Silva at Tula called “Movement and Stillness”. This is where Yin Yoga and SomaYoga are brought together.
I will close this first venture into the public airing of my personal story with a new beginning. The Eight Limbs of Yoga starts with Ahimsa, or non-violence in English. “Do no harm!” It can be less emphatic if you think “be gentle”. Round off those edges that you experience as pain so that you may see it more deeply and heal.
I sincerely thank anyone who made it this far, for it is the end.